I stated that the schismatics should return: 1. With a heartfelt confession of the sin they committed when they left the Protestant Reformed Churches and supported the two heretical statements of De Wolf, and 2. That they should make this confession to the consistory and church of which they were members before the schism. The latter item, though it was inseparably connected with the first, became the subject of difference of opinion between the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids and the Southeast Church of the same city.
The latter claimed that they could receive schismatic members in their communion that, before the split, belonged to the First Church ; the former insisted that, before those schismatic members could join any other Protestant Reformed Church, they would first have to make confession of their sin before the consistory and congregation of the First Church.
This became the occasion of a protest of the First Church to the Southeast Church, and, finally, of a protest to Classis East together with an answer of Southeast Church.
We had just begun to publish the first mentioned protest in our Standard Bearer and we were still to enumerate the grounds of this protest when, for lack of space, we had to discontinue. These grounds we will now mention in abbreviated form.
Here they are:
1. In spite of the fact that the consistory of First Church objected to receiving the schismatic members, that before 1953 belonged to First Church, Southeast consistory and church nevertheless did receive these schismatic members in their own communion without first referring the matter to Classis. This action is hierarchical.
2. These schismatic members had no proper attestation. Surely, attestation from the schismatic DeWolf group could not be considered valid. This is in plain violation of Article 61 of the Church Order which plainly states that no one coming from another church shall be received as member and admitted to the Lord’s Supper without proper attestation.
3. The consistory of First Church calls attention to the fact that Southeast Church violated Article 84 of the Church ‘Order which reads as follows: “No church shall in any way lord it over other churches, no minister over other ministers, no elder or deacon over other elders or deacons.” This is further explained by the fact that Southeast Church and consistory assumed jurisdiction over the former schismatic members of First Church and that Southeast consistory ignored the jurisdiction of First Church.
4. Southeast consistory also violated Article 71 of the church Order which speaks of Christian discipline as follows: “As Christian discipline is of a spiritual nature, and exempts no one from civil trial or punishment by the authorities, so also besides civil punishment there is need of ecclesiastical censure, to reconcile the sinner with the church and his neighbor and to remove the offense out of the church of Christ.” This cannot be done when the sinner ignores or is allowed to ignore the consistory against which he has sinned. Moreover Southeast consistory also violated Article 75 of the Church Order which states that reconciliation must take place “upon sufficient evidence of repentance.” Also this becomes impossible when the sinner simply bypasses the consistory against which he has sinned. Besides, Christian discipline, which must begin with the individual believer, becomes impossible when the sinner is simply re-instated in another church and bypasses those against whom he has sinned.
5. Southeast consistory’s action of receiving schismatic members of First Church is based on the erroneous notion that the schismatics simply left the First Church and formed a new church or rather continued to function as the legal First Protestant Reformed Church, while the fact is that they were guilty of rebellion, of mutiny. Not only the leaders but also the members that followed them were guilty of these gross sins. Yet Southeast consistory received these schismatic member? without even acknowledging the consistory of First Church.
6. Finally, the consistory of Southeast Church is not even seeking the welfare of the schismatic members concerned. These know very well that they have sinned against the consistory and members of the First Church and that they never repented of and confessed their sin in the proper way or in any way at all. They cannot feel at home in the several meetings held by the members of the Protestant Reformed Churches. And they cannot feel in their hearts that the blessing of God rests upon them.
Thus far, in brief, is the protest of the First Church.
Now let us give also a brief but quite sufficient and adequate outline of the answer of Southeast consistory as it was before classis.
This is not easy, not only because the answer of the Southeast consistory is very long (it covers eleven typewritten pages), but also because it brings in all kinds of material that has nothing to do with the protest of First Church consistory proper. But I will try. And remember that it is not my purpose to criticize this answer, even though I cannot help but make a remark occasionally.
First of all, the answer states that the protest of First Church is based on the following main principles: 1. That the De Wolf group did not constitute a lawful denomination. They had no legal officebearers; nor could they elect new officebearers and, therefore, they continued to function illegally. They could not baptize, receive confession of faith or issue papers. 2. That all who left were guilty of grievous sins. 3. Therefore, if those who left us desire to return, they must make confession of their sin before their former consistories.
Then Southeast consistory presents a few questions, namely: why did the consistory of First Church not include certain names of those that also left us and were received by Southeast Church, and why did First Church recognize the baptism of a certain child that received this sacrament from the De Wolf group. Southeast consistory claims that neither the consistory of First Church nor Classis East will dare to assume the consequences of the, position of First Church.
And here I (H.H.) have a question. It is this: Does the consistory of Southeast maintain that the De Wolf group is (not merely a legal denomination) but the legal Protestant Reformed denomination?
Next the Southeast consistory makes a rather long quotation from a letter addressed to the consistory of First Church on Nov. 27, 1961, i.e., after the schismatic members had already been received by the consistory of the Southeast Church. In this letter they state, chiefly, that the position of the First Church had already been clearly stated, namely, “that the only way to come to an agreement as consistories would be for us precisely what you maintain.” . . . “Consequently, we felt in good conscience that we had the right and duty to proceed.” This meant that Southeast Church and consistory had already received the schismatic members in their communion in spite of the objections raised by the consistory of First Church in a letter addressed to the consistory of Southeast Church after the meeting of Oct. 10 with a committee of the latter church. In the same letter of Southeast to which we referred above, they claim that it is not true that “the consistory of Southeast was not concerned at all whether we had anything against these families in connection with the split.” In fact, “they might have called you an assembly of devils or something of that nature.” Besides, in the same letter they deny that they are lording it over the consistory of First Church. They consulted various authorities on Church Polity and found that they one and all agreed with them, i.e., with the consistory of Southeast Church. (See for this the article of H.C.H. in the present issue of our Standard Bearer.)
The next page of the answer is chiefly repetition of what was said before. They, the consistory of the Southeast Church, cannot agree that the De Wolf group is not a legal denomination. And they offer various grounds for this opinion as, for instance, that in that case they could not recognize the baptism administered by the De Wolf group, nor the confession of faith made before them, that all the schismatics lived for eight years outside of the instituted church, that our loved ones who died while they were members of that group can hardly be considered saved, that all these people were worse than heathen and atheists.
For the rest, there is a good deal of repetition. The consistory of Southeast Church maintains that the De Wolf group constitute a legal denomination. In the past numerous churches have come into existence through splits. (This is true, of course. The fallacy of this argument is, however, that the churches did not claim that they were the original denomination as did the De Wolf group. The Reformers in the sixteenth century did not claim that they were the Roman Catholic Church. In 1924 we did not claim that we were the Christian Reformed Church: we took the name Protestant Reformed Churches. H.H.)
Hence, Southeast consistory states in its answer to the protest of First Church: “We must affirm our right, as far as this aspect of the question is concerned, to receive these people and deal with them, to receive and deal with their certificates of dismissal.” But see for this the article by H.C.H. To do otherwise is, according to the answer, Romish and sectarian. (By sectarian Southeast consistory, evidently, means that Classis East was wrong when they condemned the two statements of De Wolf and that, from those of the schismatics who desire to return to us, we must demand not that they, too, condemn them. It follows that, when these schismatic members were received by Southeast consistory, they were not asked to confess this sin. I stated this on the floor of classis. I asked the consistory of Southeast, or rather the delegates from that church to classis, to tell us what they confessed, but they refused to answer. H.H.)
On pages 5 and 6, Southeast consistory claims that the schismatic members of First Church did not separate themselves but were dismissed by the consistory of First Church. Into this we need not go any farther, for the simple reason that they, the Southeast consistory themselves, know and. state in their answer that they were severing themselves.
On pages 7 and 8 of their answer Southeast consistory relates the case of H. Vander Vennen. Also into this we need not go any farther, for the reason that this matter will still be brought up on the April session of Classis East.
On pages 7 and 8 of their answer Southeast consistory, declares: “Furthermore, we cannot agree that we must: regard and treat all these people as guilty of gross, grievous, censurable sins.” If the consistory of Southeast Church, means by this that they were not all equally guilty, we can agree. But the protest of First Church did not refer to “all these people” but to the Gritter family, and they certainly were guilty of “gross, grievous, censurable sins.”
On the rest of page 8 the consistory of Southeast Church states:
“We affirm, therefore:
“1) These people left for conscience and conviction. Because they could not see that our decisions and actions were right, our interpretations of statements, our decision to discipline, etc.
“2) These people left because they had faith in their leaders and their assurances that they were and would remain Protestant Reformed.
“3) These people now want to return, not because we have so much to offer them outwardly and visibly, to be sure, but because they now see that they were deceived, that we are indeed the Protestant Reformed Churches, and they desire fervently our fellowship, our churches, our doctrine. As one prominent minister said: ‘Accept them; make it easy for them; they are only sheep returning to the fold; I know, these sheep cannot feel at home anywhere else except with you people.’
“4) And this should be our basic attitude toward these people.”
And then the answer goes on to assert that there is no reason why these schismatics should apply to their former consistory. Southeast consistory has the right to receive them as members. This is also evident from the letters Southeast received from the Netherlands. (Read the article by H.C.H.)
The answer closes with a brief discussion of the grounds on which the protest of First Church is based. It states the following:
1. As to ground 1: there is nothing hierarchical in the action of the consistory. Southeast did not violate the bond of denominational unity. This is not the position of Prof. Nauta. (See the article by H.C.H.)
2. The action of Southeast is not in conflict with Article 61 of the Church Order. This is motivated by the statement that Article 61 does not apply here.
3. The consistory did not violate Article 84 of the Church Order. They simply received dismissal papers and acted accordingly.
4. In regard to grounds 4 and 5 of the protest of First Church the consistory first states “that this material has already been answered” in their reply, but they, nevertheless, go into the matter at length, and it is impossible as well as immaterial for us to quote this long discussion. But what the Southeast consistory really wants to say is in the last part, and this we quote once more: “We submit, too, that when people return from the De Wolf group to any one of our churches, there confess their sorrow for having done what they did, there repudiate clearly and fully their former position and confess their longing for our churches and doctrine, they are revealing ‘sufficient evidence of repentance.’ and as such should be embraced by all our churches and people. . . . But we do say, that any one of our churches has the right to deal with these matters, and finish them, .and that the church to which they apply has the jurisdiction to act.”
5. As to the last ground the consistory in its answer declares that what “the First Church says here is a sad commentary on the spiritual state of affairs in our churches.” I believe that I have done full justice to the answer of Southeast consistory. We still have the protest of Creston’s consistory and of Mr. Pipe. But this, as well as the decision in the matter by Classis East, must wait till next time.